G’town committee obtains Amtrak documents

GERMANTOWN—The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee has released years of reports on Amtrak incidents along the Germantown shoreline.

In June, the committee submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak asking for all information relating to safety incidents at the two public grade crossings at Germantown’s Ernest R. Lasher, Jr. Memorial Park and Cheviot Park. The committee also sought incidents along the right-of-way, which in Germantown runs along the town’s entire shoreline on the Hudson River. The committee requested data from 2010 to the present in connection with its concerns about the railroad’s plan for new fences to limit shoreline access.

The committee said in a release that in August it received more than 200 pages of records. During this eight-and-a-half-year period, 24 reports related to incidents along the right-of-way, and 19 reports to malfunctions at the grade crossings. Of the 24 right-of-way reports, five were additional or duplicate reports, leaving 19 separate right-of-way incidents. The full set of documents received by the committee is online at http://gatesgate.org/amtrak-foia-request-and-response/.

Two of the right-of-way incidents over the eight-year period were fatalities, though neither involved shoreline trespassing. One fatality was an Amtrak maintenance worker struck by a train. The other victim was found dead near the tracks with injuries consistent with falling or jumping from a freight train.

Five other incidents, including a train striking a fallen tree and an emergency stop due to people on the tracks, were north of Germantown’s Lasher Park in an area not impacted by Amtrak’s proposed fences and gates.

During striped bass season, anglers are often along the tracks in vehicles, yet only one incident mentioned a vehicle, and it was in March—earlier than striped bass season.

Other incidents involved rocks and fallen trees, which are not related to public use of the right-of-way.

In two incidents police and other first responders accessed the right-of-way—one a police foot pursuit and the other a response to a downed aircraft in the Hudson.

There were about as many crossing gate malfunctions as there were right-of-way incident reports since 2010.

The waterfront committee has been advocating for continued access to this section of the Hudson River shoreline. Committee members say the data suggest that people are able to safely enjoy the shoreline.

Committee members also believe that a public presence along the shoreline can enhance safety. For example, people can spot and report debris on the tracks (two of the incidents) and people can spot and report children behaving unsafely (four of the incidents).

Amtrak’s rationale for the proposed gates and fences is to limit public access to the shoreline, which, supposedly, would improve safety. In conversation, Amtrak representatives have cited anecdotal evidence that public recreation along Germantown’s shoreline is a safety concern to the railway engineers.

Earlier this year, Amtrak proposed a project—which would affect Dutchess and Columbia counties—to install stretches of fencing and gates designed to block access to miles of Hudson River shoreline including the shoreline road, a drivable path often referred to as the access road or as the right-of-way. In Germantown, the river shoreline has been accessible to the public for many decades.

This spring the New York State Department of State invited public comment on the proposed project and received comments from 302 individuals, along with a petition with 108 signatures, according to Lee Park, a DOS spokesman.

The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee also noted two other still-active online petitions, which, by the end of the spring public comment period, carried a combined 2,059 digital signatures.

“DOT… requested and Amtrak has agreed to hold a minimum of two public information sessions to take place within the relevant stretch of the corridor regarding the project purpose, need, and proposed implementation plan,” Mr. Park said.

“These meetings, held by Amtrak, are intended to provide an additional forum for community involvement as well as opportunities for the public to provide comments to Amtrak,” Mr. Park said. “The information presented during Amtrak’s meeting will determine whether the DOS will hold a second public comment period.”

Over the summer, Amtrak representatives held information meetings on site with several of the impacted communities. The Germantown meeting took place August 24.

Late last month the state Department of Transportation informed Germantown Supervisor Robert Beaury that public meetings would be postponed until early 2019, during which time the DOT and Amtrak would continue to refine the project.

Asked for an update on the project last week, Jason Abrams, a spokesman for Amtrak, released the following statement: “The project is still under review by Amtrak, NYSDOT, and NYSDOS. Public Information meetings have not been scheduled but will be announced in the future.”

For more on this issue or to receive updates visit GatesGate.org or email moc.l1566178144iamg@1566178144eetti1566178144mmoct1566178144norfr1566178144etawn1566178144wotna1566178144mreg1566178144.

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